Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas Craft - Handmade Cookie gift container!

Every Christmas one of the things I look forward to the most is baking.  Even though Christmas time is so busy and we're all running around going to parties, catching up with old friends and family, shopping and cooking, sometimes it's nice to slow down and bake!

Every year I'm a part of a Cookie Exchange with friends, where we each make many dozens one type of cookie.  Then we get a dozen of everyone else's cookie that's a part of the exchange.  It's fun because you're only baking one type of cookie, but end up with 4 or 5 types back, depending on how many people are in the exchange.  But this post isn't about Cookie Exchanges, it's about an idea for making a festive container to hold the cookies and give them as an edible gift!

Since I've been supplementing nursing with formula and solid foods I've had a lot of formula containers that I thought I could reuse for something.  At Christmas time I thought, why not use them to hold edible gifts like cookies or candies.  By using the container you can keep the cookies, etc. fresh and give them in a cute container that the person can keep.  So here's how I did it:

Step 1: Clean the empty formula container and rip off the label.  I left the sticky strip on the container that held the label on because it would help to hold on the Christmas paper in the later step.

Step 2: Cover the container, not including the top in white glue.

Step 3: Cut out a piece of Christmas wrapping paper to fit the tin.  Wrap the paper around the tin and make sure it sticks well to it and has the least amount of wrinkles as possible.  It's easier when you have better quality, thicker paper, because then you'll have less wrinkles.

Step 4: Optional -I painted a light coat of gold paint on top of the wrapping paper because the paper had a few wrinkles I wanted to minimize.

Step 5: Decorate the top with any Christmas-related crafty felt or "bling" or anything like that in Christmasy colours like red, green, gold or silver.  I chose to glue on some red and green stars, and "bling" that I picked up at the Dollar store.

Step 6: After waiting for everything that was glued on to dry and set, all you have to do is add some tissue or wax paper into the tin and put in your edible gift - cookies, chocolate, bark, etc.

And there you have it!  A nice handmade container to display the great baking you did and that is part of the gift!  You upcycled a container that would have ended up in the garbage and made it cute and useful.  Merry Christmas!!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Easy & Quick Christmas Craft! Photo ornament!

I love making crafts, using my creativity and reusing or upcycling things I have around the house so they don't get wasted.  Since I have started feeding my son solid food (mush!) I have so many small glass baby food jars around the house.  I've recycled a number of them and then kept some for a future project when I got inspired and had an idea finally.  The jars sat on my kitchen counter for around a month until I thought, I don't have to use the whole jar, why not just the top? And then I thought of adding in a photo of my son's first portrait sitting when he was 5 months old, and from there I made a Christmas ornament.

Step 1: Paint the jar top with a "Christmasy" colour of your choice, red, green, metallic...I chose gold since that was a paint colour I had on hand and it's a colour commonly used to decorate at Christmas time.  I just picked up that paint at the Dollar store.  Paint at least 2 coats to ensure the boring original silver and any writing on the jar top is fully covered.

Step 2: Cut the photo you intend to use into a circle that will fit the jar ornament.  Make sure the photo you choose makes sense with the size of the jar top.  The faces should be a good size so you can see them from far away, so not to small or too large.

Step 3: After you have let the paint dry fully, fill up the jar top with something you have on hand, such as a few pieces of cardboard or pieces of folded paper, etc.  I used a piece of styrofoam that I cut to fit the jar top.  After filling up the jar top up to the rim, spread some glue on it.

Step 4: Glue the photo on the jar top.  In order for the photo to fully adhere I put something heavy like a book on top of the ornament and waited about an hour before going to the next step.

Step 5: I glued some small coloured "bling" around the edge of the ornament to partially frame it.  I used red and green Christmas colours.

Step 6\: Cut a piece of  ribbon that is long enough to wrap around the jar top and have some ribbon leftover to create a loop that can help you hang the ornament on the tree.  I added a small bell to make the loop look more festive when it is on the tree.

And "tada" you have a personalized photo ornament you can be proud to add to your tree or give as a gift.  I think I'll make one every year with the annual portrait I'm going to get of my son!  So happy crafting and let me know if you make this craft and how it goes!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Taste of the Season Niagara Wine Tour: Part 2

After much travel to twenty-eight different and unique wineries in Niagara on the Lake, I was full, feeling no pain and ready for the cold weather and holiday season.  On our 1 hour ride home, thankfully driven by our designated driver, we talked about the highlights of all the different pairings and which ones stood out for us.

Since I've been going on this wine tour annually I've learned a lot more about wine, but still haven't caught up to his knowledge and I'm all about how does it taste to me, do I enjoy it, is it paired well with the food.  The pairings I like are mainly based on an immediate emotional and physical reaction, not analyzing the wine or food too much.

My Top 3 Pairings

3. Cattail Creek Estate Winery - 2009 Pinot Noir paired with Wild Mushroom and Pancetta Ragout, topped with crispy onions- What can I say?  I'm a sucker for crispy onions...and bacon or pancetta, so this sounded great from the start.  I like mushrooms, if they're not the regular white, button kind, so the fact that wild mushrooms were part of this recipe also made it great.  It was such a great combination of flavours, and textures and when paired with a red wine made it even better.  The earthy flavours of the mushrooms with the salty pancetta and crispy onions were more than enhanced by the wine.  At first glance, since the only meat in this recipe is the pancetta, I thought a white wine would be a better choice, but after tasting it, the Pinot Noir was a perfect choice!  Now I have to learn how to make crispy onions!

2. Riverview Cellars Estate Winery - 2011 Riesling paired with Vegetarian curry - When I think of white wine pairings I think of pairing it with chicken, fish or vegetarian meals.  Seeing this pairing of vegetarian curry and white wine peaked my interest because it sounded like a great idea from the start. It was fabulous because the vegetarian curry had just the right amount of spiciness and the white wine was crisp with a little sweetness so it was refreshing after the spicy curry.  I'm going to try to recreate this recipe at home because I liked it so much!

1. Inniskillin Wines - 2008 Vidal Icewine paired with Asian Inspired Chicken Wings- Sometimes the pairings that sound the simplest turn out being the best, as with this pairing, in my opinion.   We arrived at the winery when they were making fresh wings, just out of the kitchen which was even more of a treat and I'm sure added to their fabulous taste.  The wings weren't greasy and they had a tangy, salty, sweet glaze on them, but they weren't over sauced.  Pairing the wings with the Icewine was ingenious because it highlighted both the sweet and salty flavours.  The Icewine was fabulous and complemented by a specially made Icewine glass.  The glass would allow for you to drink the Icewine and have it hit the back of your mouth not the tip of your tongue, which would make it come across as too sweet.  It was such a well done, not over done pairing.  I'd love to have the recipe to the wings too!  

Most Unique and Memorable - The most unique and memorable treat at the tour was the Ice wine slushie at The Ice house!  It was so decadent because ice wine is so sweet and the perfect chill just makes it better. So and ice wine slushie was such a cold, sweet treat.  At The Ice House you could get your pairing with a tasting of ice wine in a regular cup or as a slushie.  I chose the slushie!  Next time I serve Ice wine at home I'll have to try to make it a slushie and the Christmas season may just be the time to try this out!

All in all, there were so many great pairings and wines this year and I can't wait until next year.  I might try out the Wine and Chocolate festival in February or wait for the Wine and Herb festival in May.  All I need is to get a babysitter again and start planning and dreaming!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Cons of Maternity Leave (Not really...)

Sure, for me I've found in the last six months or so that maternity leave definitely beats working in an office, even with all of the challenges of being a new mom.  Even so, there are some cons to being on maternity leave and so many changes in my usual routines that someday's I'm still reeling from all the change.  The top 3 that keep coming to mind are:

Cons to being on Maternity Leave

Limited Adult Conversation
I admit I'm not that outgoing of a person naturally and I didn't have a job where I was in a lot of regular meetings or on the phone frequently, but I still had a lot more adult conversation than I do now!  Most of my day is spent one on one with my son alone which is different than working in an office with little privacy, and lots of people dropping by to request help with one thing or another.

To keep myself from getting isolated because of this I try to go out at least once a day and connect with friends a few times a week, even if it's just through email.

Less Freedom to Come & Go 
Some days it's such an effort to just keep up with my little guy, let alone think about going outside of the house somewhere!  Luckily my son was born in the summer so the beautiful, warm, and sunny weather usually beckoned me outside at least for a little jaunt or two.  It's not the same as before I was a mom, when at any moment you could just grab your purse and go with out a second thought.  So although I have more freedom to do what I want with my time than when I was working 8 or 9 hours a day, it's not so simple.

To make things easier to do a quick get up and go, I keep baby essentials in a small bag at the door that can be grabbed quickly and put into any handbag.  I also keep multiple toys and blankets in both cars and our little umbrella stroller in our small car and the larger stroller in the larger car.  At least then I can leave and it's not as big of a planning expedition.

My shopping
When I was working I used to shop quickly on my coffee break and at lunch time.  Since I worked in downtown Toronto I had many different places to shop and I didn't have to rush.  I also admittedly shopped for totally "selfish" reasons, including new shoes, purses, clothes, and other accessories.  My only real limit was my budget.  Now I technically have more time to shop since I'm not working but have to either push my son in a stroller or carry him in a baby carrier which I prefer.  I hate maneuvering the stroller so most days I carry my son in the carrier which limits the number of bags I can carry since I'm already carrying him!  Obviously the shopping budget is different now being on leave too...

I've found the best way to deal with the shopping changes are to go with the flow.  Since my son prefers the baby carrier, that's what I use, just so I can at least go shopping and keep him happy and quiet.  Sure it would be easier to have him sitting quietly in the stroller so I wouldn't have to schlep bags on top of carrying him.  The problem when I put him in a stroller he always seems to only last 30 minutes before he starts screaming and then I end up carrying him and somehow pushing the stroller too.  Not a good idea.

Having such a major change in your life as welcoming a beautiful baby comes with it's many adventures, delights and challenges.  Everyone learns as they go along what works for them and their family and what keeps their little one happy.  Everyday is a learning experience, way more than when I was at work.

How did being on maternity leave compare to working for you?  What were the biggest pluses and minuses of your new routine?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Taste of the Season Niagara on the Lake Wine Tour

In this post I'm going to talk about a wine event that I look forward to every year, and why I love it.  In my next post I'll talk about my favourite food and wine pairings at the event this year.

Every year Niagara on the Lake holds a special wine tour in November called Taste of the Season. When you attend the event you get a passport to try a food and wine pairing at over 25 wineries in the area.  My husband and I discovered this event in 2006 when we were still dating.  This event was our first day trip and now it's a tradition since we go every year.  We even went last year when I was 3 months pregnant, but I only ate the food and no wine!  This year it was the first time we were away from our son for longer than a few hours.

I love the event because its not just about wine tasting, its also about the pairings and what types of foods go with different wines.  Niagara is a beautiful setting too and you can visit so many wineries that have different strengths in reds, whites or ice wines.  In one day or a weekend, depending on how you do the tour, you get to try such a great variety of wines, paired with savoury and sweet appetizer sized bites.  It's also a bonus to check out each winery with it's distinct interior design.

The first time I went on the tour it took some getting used to how wine tours work and all of the terms the people serving you would mention.  Even to this day I generally judge things on if I simply like the taste of the wine and the wine has a good finish.  I may have a good palate and a good nose, but can't really identify things they mention like "notes of berries, coffee, chocolate", etc.  My husband on the other hand is more of a wine expert since he has traveled and sampled wine in so many different regions of Europe and took a few general interest wine courses at a Community College.  Since my husband and I take two different perspectives on the tastings it makes it quite the adventure.

The great thing about the tour is I always seem to come away with interesting factoids about wine.  Its good to have a few wine tidbits to bring up at your next dinner party or work event!  Here are a few things I learned:

1. I learned that ice wine is best enjoyed when it doesn't hit the tip of your tongue first because it is very sweet.  It is better when the ice wine hits the back of your mouth so the sweetness is more muted.

2. Ice wine is so prized and more expensive than regular wine because much less juice can be extracted from  frozen grapes leading to less product that can be used to create the wine.  The juice also has a lot more concentrated sugar, leading to the wonderful sweetness that ice wine is known for.

3. Unoaked Chardonnay is different because the wine isn't stored and aged in oak wine barrels.  The wine is stored in stainless steel barrels or other non-oak barrels.  This changes the taste of the Chardonnay into a more fruity, crisper taste.

In my next post I will be revealing my husband and my top 3 favourite food and wine pairings for this year's visit.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pros of Maternity Leave

On a similar topic to my last post on the differences between Maternity leave and working in an office, I was thinking this week about some daily pros and cons of being on maternity leave.  Missing the commute came to mind when watching news early in the morning, the annual review came to mind because its that time of year, and leaving my card behind came to mind when I thought I lost my house keys this week.  Right now I'm trying to emphasize the pros to being on leave, next week I'll talk about three cons.

Pros to being on Maternity Leave

Missing the Commute
Most days I wake up early with my son and it's funny to turn on the TV or radio and hear about the morning commute.  It doesn't sound nice to gloat, but really it is funny to sit there half bleary listening to news of traffic jams and train switch problems and it has no effect on you at all!  I used to take the train downtown before I was pregnant and in the last few months of pregnancy I drove to work.  Most days the commute was just routine, but then there were days when I really dreaded it. Over 1.5 hours a day wasted, no more.

Not having the annual Review
In school I didn't mind report card time or exams that much.  I did well in most subjects and got along with many teachers.  That didn't prepare me for the fun of work reviews.  They weren't like report cards in school which were done by the teacher and handed to you without discussion or debate.  Work reviews were almost the exact opposite and being an introvert I dreaded them.  I dreaded the discussion of a rating for my year of work.  How could a year of work and so many projects be distilled into one rating?  Then the discussion of a possible raise or bonus?  I hated that even more.  Don't get me wrong I enjoyed getting the resulting raise or bonus if I did, but the stuff leading up to it, I wasn't a fan of.  So at this time of year when the review would take place, it's like a sigh of relief that I don't have to have one.

One last thing on reviews.  Its not like I don't get reviewed by my infant son everyday.  I do.  His reviews are totally honest, instant and frequent.  His reviews are also delivered with much passion and quite loudly at times.  I like it much better that way.

Not having an access card to get in & out of your office
I admit it, I have a horrible memory.  Especially when I was pregnant.  My memory just got worse.  My office had a security access card entry like most downtown offices.  The security was there to keep out thieves, (many a laptop had gone missing over the years).  I hated this system because I forgot my card at least once a week.  So I'd have to go borrow one from a coworker anytime I wanted to go for a coffee or to lunch or to a meeting.  It was a painful, dreadful day when that happened.  For some reason it made me feel a little bit too much like a prisoner!  Well, being at home I obviously don't have to worry about this.  Funny thing is with a baby you can't come and go as you please so easily either, and there a lot of things you can forget, but its not the same thing, and I'm glad.

These are just three personal pros of maternity leave that came to my mind.  What are some of yours?  Next week I'll describe three cons.  They will be harder to come by though, I admit.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Top 10 Differences - Mat Leave & Working in an Office

This Saturday, November 10th, was my son's 6 month's "birthday".  So, being deep into my maternity leave routine I've been thinking a lot about the differences in my old routine and my new reality.  So I thought I'd do the Top 10 differences between working in a downtown Toronto office and being at home on maternity leave.

1. Every trip anywhere takes way longer than before to get ready and out the door, with all the baby gear.  I always seem to forget something too.  And just when I'm almost out the door my son either spits up on me or needs his diaper changed.  No more waking up 10 minutes before I need to go somewhere and "schleping" things together as I rush out the door!

2. The monotony of 1.5 hours total commuting on a train versus staying at home.  I definitely get a seat, without any pushing or fighting - any seat in the house, (unless there's a cat sitting on it). 

3. Listening to baby songs, (B-I-N-G-O) and nursery rhymes instead of blasting music in my car on the way to the GO train station and on my iPod.

4. Instead of being stuck at my cubicle staring at a computer screen  - stuck on the couch feeding my son for hours!

5. I have the best boss in the world - my little guy.  He always reviews me highly, and I'm sure he would give me a raise and promotion if he could.  

6. My favourite difference between maternity leave and the office is being able to make my own breakfast and lunch instead of eating in a food court or bringing in cold leftovers.  I like cooking and eating breakfast and lunch better than making dinner, (I leave that for my hubby). 

7. Talking to adults about sales results, numbers, numbers, and more numbers, versus talking to my son about "1,2,3s" and "A, B, Cs".  I can't wait to teach him everything I know, hopefully he'll like math, because I can't remember anything about history or science.

8. Bored at my desk staring at photos of my cats, vs. sitting beside my cats! It's way more fun to be sitting beside them and it's nice to be surrounded by someone who is always happy to see you.  Even if they're cats... 

9. I get WAY less colds, or flu.  When I commuted in a crowded train with everyone and their uncle coughing and sneezing I seemed to go from one cold to the next.  I always dreaded the warm pole. You know the one - when you're trying to hold on when the train is moving fast and you grab a pole someone else was just holding.  Yes, I'm a bit of a "germaphobe"! 

10. I wake up usually two hours earlier than when I worked - Who knew?  At least I get to have naps when the little man decides to cooperate!

Do any of these things sound familiar to you?  What differences did you notice between maternity leave and work?

Friday, 2 November 2012

New Mom - New Life

Today I'm launching my blog to hopefully work towards doing what I love for a living.  What do I mean by that?  Well right now I'm half way through my maternity leave from a job I haven't enjoyed working at for a long time. The months until my scheduled return to the office, (yikes) are counting down as I write this.  The question of do I go back to work or become a SAHM or WAHM looms, (acronyms are not just for the office)!

So how did I get here?  When I was taking care of my hungry, growing newborn I spent a ton of time glued to the sofa feeding him.  And as new mom I ha a thousand questions that I couldn't always find in a book or through chatting with other moms.  I started browsing the web.  I was so happy to find a community of mommy bloggers on Twitter and other social networks.  I was hooked and wondered if I could have a voice in this world and what the heck I would talk about?

Doing what I love seemed the easiest way to contribute my voice.  To really dig into what I love I thought back to my childhood.  The first thing I ever wanted to be that I can clearly remember is an artist.  Followed closely behind by interior decorating, cooking, writing and being an entrepreneur.  I was a Gemini child that was all over the place! 

At the time I didn't know constantly moving furniture in my bedroom and drawing where it should go was an interior design interest. I also didn't think that making bracelets and selling them with a warranty, (to fix any problems) was being a little entrepreneur!
I'd like to use this blog to get back in touch with my first loves.  It will be a journey creating this blog and staying motivated to take a step everyday to make it special.  I hope you'll drop by and visit regularly!

So, here I go......